No Image Available

Neil Bentley


Chief Knowledge Officer

Read more from Neil Bentley

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Motivating the workforce does not mean big brother surveillance


Every business needs to ensure its staff are as productive as possible, but is it really necessary to monitor their every keystroke to ensure company time is not wasted?

A lot of workforce management (WFM) technologies would have businesses think so. Their solutions are constructed around the belief that staff must be spending minute after minute commenting on their friends’ Facebook updates, making purchases on eBay or browsing around for something to watch that evening on Netflix.

There seems to be a growing trend amongst WFM technologies to play up the suspicions that sometimes can develop between management and staff, emphasising the sense of division and mistrust, while encouraging managers to believe that employees are always up to something online that they shouldn’t be during office hours.

By swallowing this line of thinking, however, managers are misunderstanding the true value of data in everyday operations. The data should not be used as a tool to monitor employees to make them feel as if they are subject to a deeply oppressive presence that is ready to punish any little misdemeanour. It should be seen as the means by which staff are engaged, motivated and provided with focus for their further development as valued individuals. WFM technology firms do their potential client base a real disservice when they sow the seeds of mistrust and imply that only their solutions can ensure that fundamentally unreliable employees remain on-task, doing the work they are supposed to.

It is quite easy to view this entire subject in terms of 'information is power' or 'if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it'. Yet to do so can send management-employee relationships into a downward spiral. Lack of trust and confidence is rewarded by cheating, which in turn leads to ever greater mistrust between workforce and management. Instead of being caught up in this tailspin, a business needs to opt for a more intelligent approach that takes real workplace factors into account.

First, assume positive intent. Recognise that if they are given the opportunity, the majority of staff will perform well, taking pride and pleasure in a job that is done well. Assuming that people are lazy is often a self-fulfilling prophecy and, more than anything, is a sign of lazy leadership.

Second, operational data should exist to engage people. Make it clear that it is in everyone’s interest to have accurate and useful data. Staff need to be shown how the accumulated data they provide or that is captured about them, helps with better planning, resulting in a more controlled and less stressful environment, along with improved customer service. Once staff understand this, they will feel more invested in the data and be more committed to ensuring its accuracy. No longer will there be covert data warfare in the workplace, as one side seeks to manipulate the information while the other endeavours to outwit them.

Third, help people to stay genuinely busy. Act on the fact that people who are busy doing the right things work better. When staff are 'in the zone' they perform to a higher level and are more prepared to take on challenges. They look forward to the sense of achievement that accompanies the successful completion of a task that seemed fraught with difficulties. Make sure staff are kept busy and challenged so they remain focused and stimulated and feel their abilities are being used and developed.

Fourth, develop engaging leadership. Remember that engagement cannot be imposed by diktat or clever tricks – it has to be built. Leaders, all the way from the team level to the chief operating officer, need to be actively engaging the entire workforce in delivering superb service to customers. If, on the other hand, staff are wasting time on Facebook, as some WFM firms strongly imply, then this is an indictment of leadership skills of management, rather than the business’s technology.

When he was criticising a simplistic and lazy management technique, the management guru W. Edwards Deming once said that we should eliminate quotas and management by objectives and substitute them with leadership. If this were updated, perhaps Deming would now suggest the elimination of intrusive monitoring too.

If an organisation’s staff are spending a lot of time on Facebook, then better leadership is needed, not better analytics. The more organisations can help their staff manage their own performance, the greater the rewards for both employer and employees.

Neil Bentley is chief knowledge officer of ActiveOps. He has been helping organisations to improve their front-line operating performance for over 20 years. Originally qualified in psychology, he worked for Lucas Industries in the 1980s, gaining experience in manufacturing production management, before focusing on financial services and the public sector. He launched ActiveOps with fellow OCP partner Richard Jeffery in 2005

No Image Available
Neil Bentley

Chief Knowledge Officer

Read more from Neil Bentley

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.

Thank you!